Book #7 of the 50

7. Mind Out of Time- By Paul Williams

No, title aside, this isn’t some sort of new age theory book. It’s a book about Bob Dylan, specifically from 1987-1990 (and beyond, as Williams so happily tacks on). I was very interested in this book because I tend to know Paul Williams’s writing for two things: 1) rambling incoherently about things like how Dylan’s mumbling is a great artistic technique and 2) being overwhelmingly positive about everything Dylan ever does.

1987-1990 wasn’t a banner time for Bob Dylan. Of the top of my head, I can specifically recall these moments:

1. A painful, shouted version of Leonard Cohen’s gorgeous “Hallelujah” that was played sometime in 1988.

2. An absurdly shambolic version of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” in 1990 in which the only line Dylan seems able to remember (since he sings it about every other line) is “I AIN’T NOTHIN’ BUT TIRED!” I recall one of my other favorite made-up lines was “And I need a reaction/Yeah, I need a reaction to my face.” Seems he also tries to rhyme “spark” with “f**k” at one point as well.

3. An even more drunken, more absurd cover of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, which culminates in the clumsiest, most off-key harmonica solo ever.

And yes, it did get worse. Realizing I haven’t mentioned any Bob Dylan songs, I should bring up the infamous Stuttgaart 1991 (and yes, I know 1991 is after 1990, but bear with me) performance of “New Morning”. Dylan opened the show with this “song”. Based on the recording, he apparently stumbled on stage and tried to control his senses for a moment. Giving up, he went over to the piano and bashed a few random notes like an insolent child while the band played through the song again and again. He then grabbed a stray harmonica and squealed it into the microphone for several bars before realizing it was the wrong harmonica and was horribly off-key. He then picks up a guitar and clumsily thrashes a few chords out of time with the music and likely out of key as well. Eventually, he stumbles over to the microphone and with the tunless intonation of a drunkard sucking on a helium baloon, stumbles through the song without getting 20% of the lyrics right.

So what did Paul Williams do? Write a typical Paul Williams book. He expends a great deal of time talking about how Eastern singers are understood to sing in a way in which a garbled, phlegmatic delivery is not only intentional but appreciated. Sure, Paul, sure. He spends at least 20 pages talking about how Dylan artfully contemplates the segues between his songs. Sure he does, Paul.

I do give Williams a little credit. He does admit that some of this stuff is just rancid. At the same time, I can’t say I really enjoyed the book because, as ever, Williams’s central theme is to take whatever mound of poop Bob Dylan gives us and try to reshape it into some sort of brilliant statue. Paul Williams never seems to get that some of the time (okay, much of the time) our figurative emporer really has no metaphorical clothes.

Ah well, hope everybody else spent their weekend on better pursuits!

Joe

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4 Responses to “Book #7 of the 50”

  1. Cliff Burns Says:

    Yup, Dylan goes through some odd spells, doesn’t he? And his apologists make excuses for them, without giving any thought to the poor proles who pay big bucks and see a concert that meanders, features odd song choices and out-takes that would embarrass most performers. But since “Time Out Of Mind” Bob has been on a roll and when he’s on, no one can touch the man. I give him credit for taking us along on a spiritual and aesthetic journey that encompasses just about every faith and every branch of American music, from hillbilly to jazz and soul…he’s no saint but his visionquest has illuminated our dark places and courageously named the demons which afflict our society…

  2. eljoe1235 Says:

    Cliff, thanks for reading and posting. There’s no doubt that when Dylan is on, he’s on. I would certainly place “Time Out of Mind” on a pedestal as a really and truly great album. And frankly, there are plenty of Dylan concers from 1994-2003 that were really quite special. I like “Love & Theft” and respect “Modern Times”, but I can’t really agree that SINCE “Time Out of Mind”, he’s been on a roll. I think the roll started a few years earlier, and has mostly tuckered out since about 2003.

    That said, in the end, your post is right about Bob’s place in history. He is Bob Freakin’ Dylan, and he can continue recording albums or saunter off into the sunset at his own whims. He’s more than paid his dues. I just wish some of his biographers could be a little more honest about when he’s paying his dues and when he’s dragging some dead weight.

    Joe

  3. Amy Hilliard Says:

    “Williams’s central theme is to take whatever mound of poop Bob Dylan gives us and try to reshape it into some sort of brilliant statue”

    Colorfully stated…as usual. Tell it like it is Joe!

  4. Ricky Says:

    Sounds like another flatulent book to me. 😉

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